1929 - 2010

John was born in 1929 in Newcastle upon Tyne. His family moved away from there when he was still quite young to a farm in Mackworth near Derby.

His first school was Packwood Haugh, near Shrewsbury, and then John attended Eton. Next came National Service and John joined the army.

He went up to Cambridge in 1950 where, a year later, he met Jean Abercrombie who would become his wife. They both started ringing at Cambridge and were taught by Philip Chalk. Their first peals were on handbells. Jean rang her fist peal of Bob Minor on the trebles in February 1954. It was Bill Cook’s first peal as conductor and the other member of the band was Dick Housden. A month later John rang his first peal, also on handbells to Bob Minor, ringing the 1-2 pair with Jean on 3-4; this peal was called by Dick. There was one other handbell peal at Jean’s family home at Hampstead with the same band.

After Cambridge he joined Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the bar 1954/55. He and Jean were married in St Stephen’s, Rochester Row, in 1956 and the reception took place in Lincolns Inn. He was elected member of the Ancient Society of College Youths in 1960 though rang only one peal for them; seven Surprise Minor at Swallowfield.

Ringing in London continued at St Augustine’s, Kilburn, where John rang his first tower bell peal in 1957.

His teaching career started in 1963 at St Anselm’s Prep school in Bakewell; then Hallfield School in Birmingham. In 1966 he moved to Reading to teach Maths and Science at Crosfield’s School and later became Head of Maths. His ringing was now at Shinfield and Swallowfield but he also developed his 8-bell ringing at Caversham. The bells at Shinfield were in need of restoration and John was a significant member of the fund raising and restoration team. Following the completed restoration in 1976 he became tower captain and started to teach a band of boys from Crosfield’s. Robin Walker joined the staff there in 1978 and between them they taught a band of boys to ring and conduct their own quarter peal of Grandsire Doubles which was at St John’s, Stratfield Mortimer. John, ever an engineer manqué, devised and made some ‘tinklers ‘ (pre-Abel sound control) and some most ingenious clapper bars which have appeared on the internet and found acclaim in some ringing circles.

As a teacher, John was a stickler for making sure pupils learned proper examination etiquette. He would devise exams and tests which would ensure that pupils learned to follow instructions to the letter. One such examination of 20 questions had the following instruction at the top of the paper:

‘You have 5 minutes to complete this paper. The object is to make sure that you earn as many points for your house as you possibly can. Read through all the questions thoroughly before attempting any answers.’

Imagine the horror on some boys’ faces when, after only 3 minutes or so, one or two boys rushed up to sir’s desk with broad grins on their faces, boldly exclaiming that they had finished the paper! John would examine the work and shout at the top of his voice, “Excellent!” and praise the boys suitably. The rest of the mystified class would have their attention drawn to question 17 which might read, “This is the only question for which house points are available …”

He was delighted last year to receive his 50 years’ membership certificate of the Society.

John wasn’t a dedicated peal ringer and, in fact rang only 41 peals, mostly for the Middlesex County Association and London Diocesan Guild, and conducted, in the main, by Frank Blagrove. Most of the others were rung for the Oxford Diocesan Guild and were for some suitable Royal or Church celebration. He and Jean were elected Honorary Members of the ODG several years ago for dedicated services to the Guild. John’s main role in ringing was as a teacher and enthusiastic recruiter to the tower and the Guild. Many a hapless dog walker or churchyard visitor has been prevailed upon to come and ‘have a go’ during a practice night and ended up hooked. His enthusiasm for ringing never foundered and he was ringing up until a few weeks before his death. Practices were never cancelled and he took all his pupils to branch practices while he was still teaching. These were memorable and the ride there even more so: John learned his driving in the Army. As a past student of his I can echo Robin’s comments about discipline. I never went to the tower without having done my homework but, it seems, I could always do better. He taught me and many others to raise our horizons.

John was an excellent wordsmith, often completing the Times crossword puzzle in the gap between weddings and was a very useful member of the Swallowfield Quiz Team, nearly always victorious, when it came to the foreign words and phrases and Classical mythology. Certainly a man of parts.

Swallowfield Church was full for his funeral and the service simple as requested in his Will. It was attended by his family; Jean, his wife, his children Andrew, Charles and Mary and grandchildren. Many ringers were in the congregation. The ringing afterwards lasted as long as the service with everyone who wanted to joining in. Bands from his local towers of Swallowfield, Shinfield, Arborfield and Eversley rang and a beautifully struck course of Cambridge Minor was rung by the Caversham ringers. The tenor was tolled at the beginning of the service by Tom Blomley, a former Crosfields student and now stalwart Swallowfield ringer, and afterwards by Steve Jenkins, another ringer at Swallowfield. Phil Chalk, happily, was able to attend, though no longer rings.

A lavish reception was held at Swallowfield hall. John will be missed by all the multitudes he taught to ring and especially by his local towers and family.

BOBBIE MAY and ROBIN WALKER

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers